Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.10.10

Jörg Rüpke, The Roman Calendar from Numa to Constantine: Time, History, and the Fasti. (Translated by David M. B. Richardson; originally published 1995).   Chichester; Malden, MA:  Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.  Pp. vi, 226.  ISBN 9780470655085.  $149.95.  

Reviewed by Michael Klaassen, St. Timothy's Classical Academy (


This revision and translation of the second part of Jörg Rüpke 's 1995 book, Kalendar und Öffentlichkeit: Die Geschichte der Repräsentation und religiösen Qualifikation von Zeit in Rom is a welcome addition to the growing number of works on calendars and consular lists from the last twenty years. For Rüpke's discussion of all the surviving Roman fasti, readers will still have to go to the first part of the original work. The translation here reviewed is a more concise version of the original, and includes references to scholarship from the intervening years, largely Rüpke 's own, but also, notably, Denis Feeney's Sather lectures from 2007, Caesar's Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History. Rüpke 's aim in this book is not so much to describe the calendar and the changes made to it over time, as to suggest reasons for the changes. In doing so he repeatedly underscores the political and legal uses of the calendar, while downplaying its practical use in the sphere of religion.

Chapter one, "Time's Social Dimension," discusses some of Rüpke 's theoretical underpinnings. Like much theory, it is a little wordy and dense, and we come out at the other end with a sensible aim for the book: to study the calendar's "mediated forms, and the ways they function in society, and in its institutions and subordinate groups."

In chapter two, "Observations on the Roman Fasti," Rüpke outlines the basics of the calendar very quickly before turning to an overview of the evidence and a discussion of the Augustan calendar, the most-represented form. He notes that the prevalence of Augustan calendars corresponds with both Alföldy's and Zanker's interpretations of the Augustan inscriptions' representation of Augustus' political programme. At the end of the chapter he deals with the difficult question of whether an archetype for the calendar existed, and comes to the—I think correct—conclusion that there was none, or at least it is impossible to construct a stemma. This is not unusual among sub-literary documents which were altered freely by those who reproduced them, and one sees it regularly in late antique consularia.

In chapter three, "Towards an Early History of the Roman Calendar," after discarding the notion of an early ten-month year, Rüpke goes on to a discussion of the structure of the Roman month in the early Republic. He argues that the Tubilustrium must have begun as the fourth orientation day in the Roman month, along with Kalends, Nones, and Ides.

In chapter four, "The Introduction of the Republican Calendar," Rüpke assigns the detachment of the calendar months from the lunar cycle, as well as the introduction of the nundinal letters, to the reforms of Gn. Flavius and the introduction of the intercalation laws. This also resulted in a dissociation of the political/juridical structure of the year from the religious one.

Chapter five, "The Written Calendar," discusses the reforms of Gn. Flavius, which Rüpke ascribes to the influence of Appius Claudius Caecus. Rüpke 's primary point here is that the published list of fas and nefas days would impose "restrictions of time on the actions of magistrates" (p.50). That is, the publication of the calendar had primarily a political impetus rather than a religious one. He supports his position by arguing from passages in Varro and Macrobius that the label NP for feriae—a designation which has, over the years, been subject to a variety of interpretations - means nefas piaculum, indicating an offense against sacral law should the nefas character of the day be violated. He sees the written calendar as a way both of restricting the arbitrary use of power by the pontifices, while at the same time safeguarding their authority. In Rüpke 's view, Flavius' calendar was a politico-legal document, not primarily a religious one. He cautions historians of religion against reading too much into it.

Chapter six, "The Lex Acilia and the Problem of Pontifical Intercalation," deals with the practice of adding days to the year to make the lunar cycles match up with the solar year—a common problem in the Mediterranean world. The question has always been why the intercalary month was inserted after 23 February, and how to reconcile the somewhat confused discussions of Republican intercalation in the ancient sources. Rüpke discusses the matter in great detail, arguing (against Michels) that Macrobius' assertion that the intercalation occurred "in medio Terminaliorum" is explicable if we treat the Terminalia and the Regifugium as a single religious complex: the intercalary month was placed in between the Terminalia proper and the Regifugium. This whole chapter is hampered by an inadequate discussion of the sources (or lack thereof) for the lex Acilia, for which one must go to Michels.

In chapter seven, "Reinterpretation of the fasti in the Temple of the Muses," Rüpke concentrates on the painted calendar in Fulvius Nobilior's Temple of the Muses and underscores the historicization of the calendar through the addition of temple-foundation dates and the appending of the consular list. Rüpke connects Ennius closely with Fulvius' undertaking, and regards Fulvius' fasti as the prototype of the Augustan fasti.

Chapter eight, "From Republic to Empire," begins with a clear discussion of Caesar's reforms, with a convincing explanation of the confusion surrounding the new addition of a day every four years. A large section is devoted to the expansion of the calendar under Augustus and the many feriae and temple-dedication dates added to it. Rüpke regards the calendar as a vehicle used by Augustus for making the achievements of the principate public. By the end of Augustus' reign, the Augustan period itself "served as the founding past" (139).

Chapter nine, "The Disappearance of the Marble Calendars," quickly provides a clear picture of the disappearance of the marble calendar from the inscriptional record. The inflexibility of the content, says Rüpke, did not offer "adequate, more than marginal space for the patron's self-representation" (144).

Chapter ten, "Calendar Monopoly and Competition between Calendars" outlines some of the changes to the calendar from the early principate to late antiquity. The first section of this chapter notes the transition of the fasti from a document which listed only those cult events with juridical/political consequences to a calendar of Imperial festivals which defined the agenda of individual cult practice more than the traditional feriae. That is, the Imperial calendar was the only one in use. The remaining sections discuss other concurrent conceptions and calculations of time which were to have an effect on the Roman calendar: the notion of "eras," the calculation of Easter, and, more importantly, the switch from the Roman eight-day week to the eastern seven-day week with its Judaeo-Christian day of rest. The final chapter offers a recap of the whole book.

This book is one of wide learning, care, and enormous compass, and Rüpke's assertion that the Republican and early Imperial revisions of the calendar were politically driven must be correct. There are times when Rüpke's prose seems to lose direction, and the course of the argument is lost; Rüpke's arguments are often too narrowly and closely laid- out. Part of this may be due to his reticence to lay out the scholarly positions he is arguing against and the lack of explicit discussion of the ancient sources (e.g. the lack of discussion of the lex Acilia, noted above). As such, the book requires more than just a general familiarity with the Roman calendar and the scholarship around it, and those new to the calendar will find it difficult. It is not a work which will supercede Michels', where the sources are carefully laid out and discussed. However, Rüpke's careful scholarship, his overall look at the calendar in its political context, and not merely as an astronomical record or a record of religious festivals, and many of his individual arguments within the book, mark important contributions to an increasingly popular field.

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